When Governor John Kasich signed the state budget into law on June 30, he finalized the creation of the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program. After five years of advocating for this program in HB431, HB119, HB348, SB57, SB6, and HB136, parents of students with special needs now have new options for their children’s education. Now any student with special needs who has an IEP will be able to access a scholarship like those already available to students with autism.
Approximately 13,000 scholarships will be available, and each scholarship will be worth 90 percent of the student’s special education funding amount, with a cap of $20,000. The scholarship can be used to pay for tuition at a private school, additional services at a private provider, or at other public schools.
We are so happy to celebrate with families across the state who have worked so hard for so many years to make this scholarship a reality. Their vision of a scholarship that places students’ needs at the center of their education and empowers parents with options led them to write letters sharing their stories, testify at public hearings at the Ohio Statehouse, call key decision makers and urge their support, and meet individually with legislators time after time to show why this scholarship was so important to so many families.
It was not an easy road.
After two years of advocating, a proposal for the Special Education Scholarship reached Governor Strickland’s desk in 2007 only to be vetoed in a heart-breaking loss. The next year, Senator Coughlin led the fight to pass the bill in the State Senate. After securing passage in the Senate, the bill moved to the House where it was championed by Representative Jon Peterson and Speaker Jon Husted. After the House Education Committee recommended the scholarship for passage, the bill failed on the House floor with 49 yes votes to only 44 no votes (bills need 50 votes to pass the House). It was another crushing blow to parents.
But parents continued to work behind the scenes and share their stories. Parents of students who had benefitted from the Autism Scholarship shared how successful the scholarship had been for their children with autism and argued that it should be available for students with any type of disability. Parents of students with other special needs shared how they could see other options that would serve their children better but could not access them because of the expense.
Then, this year, for the 6th time in as many years, Rep. Matt Huffman put the scholarship on the legislative table again. This time, after years and years of hearing heart-breaking stories from families, legislators were ready to move forward with the scholarship, and there was no veto pen waiting for them at the end of the line. The Ohio Senate, with leadership from many Senators including Senators Bacon and Lehner, included the scholarship in their version of the state budget, the House of Representatives agreed, and Governor Kasich signed it into law on June 30.
So, what will this mean?
- Parents will now have the chance to find the education setting that is most appropriate for their child.
- Students with disabilities will now have access to options tailored to their special needs – either truly mainstream environments or specialized schools.
- Rather than having to fight through a lengthy legal process to secure services their child needs when his or her public school isn’t working, families will now be able to direct part of the tax dollars already set aside for their child’s education to the school of their choice.
Named for the special education advocate and former Representative Jon Peterson who also helped create the Autism Scholarship, this new scholarship will build on the success of its predecessor.
While many of the details are still being worked out, the scholarship will begin in the 2012-13 school year. We will update our web page on the scholarship (www.scohio.org/specialeducation) as new information becomes available.